This week was African American History week in my house as I try to understand what is happening in the US. If you haven't watched it already, please watch 13th on Netflix. This documentary is about the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom. It is upsetting. It will make you angry but adds so much depth and reason to what’s happening with the protests all over the world right now.
I feel disingenuous even commenting on the current situation in the US. As a Pakeha (white New Zealander) living in Australia, the biggest problem I have to deal with is a barista calling me Jeff instead of Jess when I order my coffee. Getting shit for my kiwi accent is about as bad as it gets.
How can I ever understand and be truly empathetic about what is happening in the US?
I have been asking myself some pretty confronting questions. What are my privileges? What are my biases? Am I honestly upholding a colonial mindset just because havent questioned the history I was taught? What do I benefit from that leaves others disadvantaged?
We are always reacting to our history. How can I change that?
I was deep in an internet wormhole of questioning my own power to make any change at all in the world when I found this interview with Antionette D. Carroll, the CEO and founder of Creative Reaction Lab.
The Creative Reaction Lab is the creator of Equity-Centred Community Design (ECCD).
ECCD is a unique creative problem solving process based on equity, humility-building, integrating history and healing practices, addressing power dynamics, and co-creating with the community.
At its most basic level it is a combination of community engagement at all stages of the project accompanied by the quick ideation and prototyping of a traditional design sprint. There is a free download to the ECCD field guide but I’ve attempted to explain it below.
Inviting diverse co-creators.
Every person working on a project brings their own identity, perspective and history. So often living experts (individuals and communities directly affected by the project outcomes) are left out of the design and decision making process.
Building Humility and Empathy
Equity-Centered Community Design requires the humility to acknowledge where our assumptions and biases lie and the empathy to observe and listen with suspended judgment.
History and Healing
Everything we know and understand about our culture and history has been learned within the context of structural oppression (again, please watch 13th on Netflix). We need to be critical of how history has been taught and be prepared to unlearn and relearn inorder to obtain a more objective truth.
Acknowledging and dismantling power constructs
By not acknowledging power constructs, they will continue to marginalise communities by constricting their social, economic and cultural growth. Inorder for any change to occur we need to understand how the system is designed. This will often require some confronting self reflection, especially if you are a white person in a developed country. We must get past the discomfort to move forward.
Defining and assessing the topic / community needs
Taking the time to understand the community you are designing for will ultimately lead to a more tailored and fulfilling outcome. It's critical that community members are seen and treated as leaders and decision makers throughout the process.
Use timed sprints to get lots of new ideas out quickly. Having members of your team who are living experts is critical for this exercise to have real value.
Quickly building prototypes is the best way to test an idea. They require little investment of time and money but allow you to gauge community response and see what is and isn’t working.
Testing and Learning
Fail early and often - modify and test again. Ideas must be tested by the community that will be using them. Testing and learning need to continue throughout the lifecycle of a project.
Rather than this being a checklist, it is the start of a shift in mindset.
As designers we need to step away from our ivory towers and immerse ourselves on the ground. Please note your computer is a small ivory tower.
The Creative Reaction Lab is also training a new form of leader called Redesigners for Justice.
It focuses on two types of designer that need to work together: Equity Designers and Design Allies.
Equity designers are embedded in the community, put people first, have lived experience with inequity and are in the project for the long run.
“Those who are most directly impacted by inequities are also closest to the approaches to address them.”
Design Allies are there to provide support and amplify equity designers. While they have many of the same attributes as an equity designer, they may not be living in the community but rather be connected to it.
You can be either an equity designer or a design ally depending on the circumstance. It’s about being able to see when you should be in the centre of the project and when you should be leveraging your skills to help centre someone else.
I really recommend watching the video of the week with Antionette D. Carroll. She does a WAY better job of explaining ECCD and Redesigners for Justice.
While I still feel rather useless in my ability to help anyone in a meaningful way right now I think listening and learning from people like Antionette is a good place to start.